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WildS­tar is com­fort­able be­ing an MMOG. It’s strange that this is re­mark­able, and that it should be a cause for cel­e­bra­tion when a new game in a pop­u­lar genre seems happy to be what it is. But the re­cent his­tory of the MMOG is a story of games caught be­tween au­di­ences, brands and gen­res. WildS­tar ig­nores all that and sets out its stall deep within the ter­ri­tory es­tab­lished by Blizzard a decade ago. Per­haps that’s not sur­pris­ing: de­vel­oper Car­bine was founded by 17 mem­bers of the orig­i­nal World Of Warcraft team.

Car­bine has got as close as any­body to re­cap­tur­ing the feel­ing of early WOW, and while WildS­tar is un­likely to be epochal in the same way, it comes strongly rec­om­mended to any­body who has ever been cap­tured by this par­tic­u­lar ar­range­ment of quest­ing, RPG the­ory, ex­plo­ration and strat­egy. WildS­tar is a com­pre­hen­sive re­tool­ing of what made this genre great, paired with an eye for style and a strong sense of fun.

It’s set on Nexus, a leg­endary planet re­dis­cov­ered by a band of refugees called the Ex­iles. Nexus was home to the El­dan, a galaxy-con­quer­ing pro­gen­i­tor race that has since van­ished, but not be­fore lit­ter­ing the planet with tech­nol­ogy. In Nexus, the Ex­iles see an op­por­tu­nity to claim a new home as well as the weapons needed to fight off the forces set against them – specif­i­cally, a mil­i­taris­tic em­pire called the Do­min­ion. The Do­min­ion was founded by the El­dan be­fore they dis­ap­peared, and be­lieves that it has a re­li­gious right to claim the planet for it­self. Ev­ery char­ac­ter be­longs to one of these two fac­tions, and each side sports a sep­a­rate set of alien races with hu­mans as com­mon mid­dle ground.

This isn’t hard sci-fi. WildS­tar’s look and feel bor­row a lit­tle from Star Wars and a lot from both Ratchet & Clank and Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles. Its alien world is ren­dered in deep pur­ple, teal, or­ange and neon green. Its char­ac­ters are tuned for ex­pres­sive­ness, mov­ing and jump­ing and fight­ing with a de­gree of flair and per­son­al­ity that demon­strates a real un­der­stand­ing of what makes a cartoon char­ac­ter pop from the screen.

These qual­i­ties are re­flected else­where. Loot, for ex­am­ple, doesn’t wait to be col­lected. When a monster dies, it ex­plodes in a shower of giblets and col­lectibles that bounce off into the sur­round­ing area be­fore be­ing hoovered into your char­ac­ter with an au­di­ble whoosh. Score a dou­ble or triple kill on a mob of en­e­mies and the game’s an­nouncer will bel­low his ap­proval in the tra­di­tion of Un­real Tour­na­ment; he even screams, “Holy bleep, you lev­elled up” when you progress to level two.

WildS­tar’s live­li­ness plays a key role in mak­ing the game ac­ces­si­ble and at­trac­tive to new­com­ers, but it also be­lies its depth. While it’s pos­si­ble to progress alone – and there’s plenty to do if you choose to play that way – group en­coun­ters, raids and chal­leng­ing in­stances are in­tro­duced early and ac­com­pany the ex­pe­ri­ence all the

WildS­tar’s PvP bor­rows more than a lit­tle from MOBAs in that any abil­ity can be de­ployed skil­fully or un­skil­fully

way to level 50 and be­yond. This is the most de­mand­ing MMOG we’ve played in years, its dif­fi­culty com­pounded by a com­bat sys­tem that places heavy em­pha­sis on move­ment and po­si­tion­ing along­side a pre­cip­i­tously deep gear and up­grade sys­tem.

Com­bat is al­most en­tirely based on area-of-ef­fect at­tacks that project from your char­ac­ter and from en­e­mies in cones, lines and cir­cles. Each class man­ages the sys­tem dif­fer­ently: front­line War­riors are able to sur­vive a few blows if it means stay­ing in melee range, while Spell­slingers deal huge dam­age but des­per­ately need to stay out of the en­emy’s reach. Ad­vanced play means chain­ing to­gether ‘ro­ta­tions’ – ef­fi­cient runs of spells and abil­i­ties – while mov­ing, dodg­ing, watch­ing your pe­riph­ery and man­ag­ing your re­sources.

This fo­cus on area-of-ef­fect abil­i­ties works well in PvP com­bat. The Spell­slinger’s Flash Freeze power, for ex­am­ple, roots any en­e­mies in a broad cone in front of the caster. Against mon­sters, you’ll use it to kite or to es­cape from fights you can’t win; against play­ers, hit­ting a group when they’re clumped to­gether sets them up for dev­as­tat­ing at­tacks from the rest of your team. WildS­tar’s PvP bor­rows more than a lit­tle from MOBAs in that any given abil­ity can be de­ployed skil­fully or un­skil­fully, ex­press­ing the per­son­al­ity and talent of the player be­hind the con­trols.

Monster en­e­mies pos­sess their own at­tack pat­terns and these be­come in­creas­ingly elab­o­rate. Bosses cre­ate mazes with their pro­jec­tiles and force re­ac­tions from play­ers. While the healer-dam­age-tank sys­tem is deeply fa­mil­iar, WildS­tar’s new ideas re­cal­i­brate the way the sys­tem func­tions, and raids in par­tic­u­lar de­mand a de­gree of dex­ter­ity and co­or­di­na­tion that goes be­yond what has been done in the genre be­fore.

The game’s big­gest weak­ness is that it doesn’t work very hard to in­tro­duce these ideas to a new au­di­ence. It makes a strong state­ment for the value and le­git­i­macy of a type of game that has been ex­ploited and de­rided for years, but it re­lies on fa­mil­iar­ity with the genre to crack through the layer of me­chan­i­cal noise that is in­tro­duced af­ter its breezy in­tro­duc­tion. This is­sue is ex­ac­er­bated by a UI that sags un­der the weight of all the types of in­for­ma­tion that it has to present. Player-made ad­dons can al­le­vi­ate the worst prob­lems, but us­ing them re­quires a de­gree of tech­ni­cal nous beginners may not have. WildS­tar also de­mands a sub­scrip­tion fee, a model that might fly with the MMOG-savvy play­ers it tar­gets, but that’s be­ing chal­lenged by free ri­vals.

For your money, how­ever, this is the best new MMOG since Guild Wars 2 and ar­guably the most fea­ture com­plete an MMOG has ever been on launch. Raids, PvP, hous­ing, dun­geons and so on may all be fa­mil­iar con­cepts, but it’s been a long time since they’ve been pre­sented this com­pre­hen­sively, and with this much charm, on day one.

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